Insights Blog

September 6th, 2016

Presidential Advertising Hit Parade – August, 2016


Karen Daboll

With the post-Labor Day rush yet to come, presidential advertising still saw an uptick in August. 22 new presidential spots were presented, compared to just 13 in July. August saw Donald Trump returning to the airwaves with television and digital spots, and two new Independent candidates making their voices heard. Not to be outdone, the Clinton camp released thirteen new ads this month (their highest monthly output of the campaign to date) with her Our Priorities USA PAC sponsoring just 4 of the new messages. Based on overall effectiveness (Ace Score), her camp’s efforts fell a bit short of the most recent Republican messages.

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As new polls indicate a tightening (and near elimination) of any gap between the two nominees, and the two Independent candidates reportedly attracting upwards of 10% of the current vote, this race has (once again) just begun. Not surprisingly, the level of negativity in presidential advertising remains high, and will undoubtedly go even further as voting day draws near.

Given that voters have previously heard many of the accusations and quotes (often perceived by voters to be taken out of context) contained in these ads, and an environment of ever-increasing negativity, it is perhaps no surprise that the highest rated ads in overall performance among Independents and Leaners in August were positive, policy spots aired by Jill Stein and the Purple PAC (pro Gary Johnson). The success of these ads could be construed as much a negative vote on Clinton and Trump as a positive for the two new candidates, as weary voters continue to look for a fresh alternative.

Top 5 August Ads: Independents/Leaners
Campaign Ad Title Air Date Ad Length Ace Score
Jill Stein For President “Terrible :60” 8/3/16 1:00 574
Purple PAC “The Honorable Choice” 8/14/16 0:30 571
Priorities USA Action “Captured” 8/2/16 0:30 553
Priorities USA Action “Michelle :60” 8/9/16 1:00 542
Trump For President “Emails” 8/19/16 1:20 526

The party faithful on both sides of the aisle gave a “hallelujah” for the policy-oriented ads finally put forth by their respective candidates over the attacks, rating them the most positively impactful of the month. Republicans found Trump’s “Two Americas: Economy” and “Two Americas: Immigration” most influential in their intent to vote for Trump, while Democrats rated Clinton’s “Race” (clean energy) and “How To” (economy) as having the strongest positive impact on their voting plans. In fact, these two Clinton spots are the most impactful from the Clinton camp to date, with the Trump spots ranking as the second and third most impactful of his campaign to date among party loyalists. These same ads were among the least impactful among the Independent/Leaner contingency, however, with Trump’s policy ads having virtually no impact (Impact scores of 51 and 50), and Clinton’s policy ads posting a slightly negative impact (Impact Scores of 46 and 44, respectively) among Independents and Leaners. Among women voters, none of the August presidential ads posted any positive impact on voting behavior, while Millennials also favored policy ads – ranking Stein’s “Terrible: 60” (alternative to two terrible candidates) and Purple PAC’s “The Honorable Choice” (pro-Gary Johnson), along with Clinton’s spot on clean energy, “Race,” as the most positively impactful of the month (Impact Scores of 59, 56, and 57, respectively).

Impact Score
Policy-Oriented Ads: IND/Leaners Republicans Democrats
Trump for President: “Two Americas: Economy” 51 72 28
Trump for President: “Two Americas: Immigration” 50 71 32
Hillary for America: “Race” 46 33 75
Hillary for America: “How To” 44 27 73

Despite giving policy-oriented ads overall kudos, Independent/Leaner voters still responded to the smears from both sides – reflecting their continued dilemma – ranking the anti-Clinton “Dead Broke” (Clinton Foundation) and the anti-Trump “Just One” (nuclear war fear) and “Everything” (African Americans) as the most impactful ads of the month (Impact scores of 36). These are the ads that Independents and Leaners indicated most made them consider voting against the candidate being attacked.

While all presidential advertising is polarizing by its very nature, 16 of the 22 newly airing ads last month were rated as more polarizing than the August spot sponsored by the NRA, “Defenseless,” which, at a Polarity Score of 70, was itself highly polarizing.

Top-Performing August Presidential Ads Among Independents/Leaners

Jill Stein for President: “Terrible :60” – Best Overall Ad, Most Educational Ad, Most Craving for More, Most Watchable, Least Polarizing

Weary voters might just be rejoicing upon hearing a fresh, new message for a change. This minute-long spot features Dr. Stein highlighting the ‘terrible’ choices facing voters and proposing her comprehensive policy promises for America to “end the economic misery” with a green new deal that will purportedly “create 20 million jobs, help climate change, and make wars for oil obsolete,” as well as “cancel student debt, make health care and college free, create a welcoming path to citizenship, and end systemic racism.” Independents and Leaners reported learning new information from the ad, a willingness to watch the ad again, and a desire to seek more information after viewing the message. This spot also posted the lowest level of voter disagreement of the August ads among Independents/Leaners (Polarity Score: 54 – only 15% of political ads are rated as less polarizing).

“Terrible” ranks as the fifth highest scoring ad (Ace Score: 583) of the election cycle to date among this voting contingency, behind Rebuilding America Now’s pro-Trump July policy ad (and July’s best presidential performer with equally low polarization), “America Soaring.” This Stein ad was also a top-performer among Millennials in August, and was ranked #1 and #2 among women voters in August in seeking information and relevance, respectively.

Trump for President: “Emails” – Most Attention-Grabbing Ad, Most Credible Ad

An online-only ad (to date), this 1:20 message presents videotape of FBI Director James Comey relaying specifics on the number of classified emails on Clinton’s personal servers, interspersed with footage of the Democratic nominee repeatedly denying the existence of any classified emails. Because of the use of an FBI spokesperson and very specific facts, the ad was viewed less as an outright smear, and more as a credible message that grabbed voters’ attention. In fact, “Emails” ranks as the most attention-getting and most credible of all 2016 presidential ads to date among Independents and Leaners. The ad was the second most attention-getting ad among women and Millennials in August as well, while also ranking as the third most credible among women.

In addition, older voters (age 50+) found “Emails” to be the second most credible ad of this election cycle to date of any candidate, trailing only the anti-Trump “Grace.”

Priorities USA PAC: “Michelle” – Most Agreeable Ad

The pro-Clinton PAC aired the August ad most in line with voters’ views as rated by Independents and Leaners (and women and Millennials) with this minute-long feature of gold star mother, Michelle DeFord, emotionally describing the impact of her experience and Trump’s treatment of her peers, from her perspective. Across candidates, the ad ranks as the third most agreeable of the campaign to date among these voters.

“Michelle” also ranks as the most attention-grabbing ad among women voters, both in August, and to date in 2016, while ranking second in credibility of the August ads amongst this constituency. 

Trump for President: “Two Americas: Economy” – Most Relevant Ad

The most relevant ad to Independent/Leaner voters in August was aired by the Trump for President campaign, with the spot comparing an American economy under Clinton vs. Trump. Voters found the policy promises made on behalf of Trump (tax relief for working families, new job creation, higher wages, and a thriving small business environment), most pertinent to their everyday lives.

“Economy” ranked second on relevance among older voters (50+) during August, just behind Trump’s other policy ad, “Immigration.”

Purple PAC: “The Honorable Choice” – Most Relevant Ad, Most Watchable Ad, Most Craving For More, Most Positively Impactful

Another PAC ad succeeded with Independent/Leaner voters, by again speaking to policies relevant to their daily lives. “The Honorable Choice” was also rated the most watchable ad of August among Independents/Leaners, while leaving this voter group with a desire to seek out additional information. The spot introduced the policies of Independent Gary Johnson (commitment to the Constitution, fiscal responsibility, and freedom), suggesting the candidate was “the honorable choice” for president. While no August ads posted a strong positive impact on voter intent among Independents/Leaners, “The Honorable Choice” ranked highest on this dimension (Impact: 52).

This ad ranks second of all presidential ads to date in 2016 in leaving Independents and Leaners craving more information, and women found “The Honorable Choice” to be the most educational presidential ad of last month, and rated it second in inspiring them to become even more educated. 

Rebuilding America Now PAC: “Dead Broke”, Hillary for America: “Just One”, Hillary for America: “Everything” – Most Negatively Impactful

Three ads tied for the most negatively impactful in August with Impact Scores of 36 each, seemingly increasing the likelihood of Independents and Leaners voting against the featured candidate. The Hillary for America campaign ran two of these smears – “Just One,” (fear-based on Trump’s temperament vs. trust to make rational nuclear decisions) and “Everything,” (snippets of Trump’s speech on the African American dilemma in America). Trump’s Rebuilding America Now PAC sponsored an equally impactful attack ad, “Dead Broke,” (Clinton Foundation questions).

Top Performing Ads Among Hispanic Voters

The following August ads posted above-norm performance in overall effectiveness among Hispanic voters:

Priorities USA: “Michelle :60” (Ace 670), “Captured” (642), and “Pledge” (613)

Hillary for America: “How To” (647)

Jill Stein for President: “Terrible :60” (632)

Rebuilding America Now PAC: “Dead Broke” (627)

Top Performing Ads Among African American Voters

The following August ads posted above-norm performance in overall effectiveness among African American voters:

Hillary for America: “How To” (Ace 731), “Race” (647), “Absolutely” (645), “Shirts” (613), “Frightened” (606)

Priorities USA: “Captured” (707), “Michelle :60” (652)

Jill Stein for President: “There Is a Candidate” (599)


For more information about Ace Metrix POLITICS, please contact Mark Bryant:



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